And now for something completely different.
Friday morning, when I planned to sleep in and then do some work, I got a call from my Microsoft support company, or so I thought.
I had had a subscription to one of these services before, and they’re great. They’re located in India. You have a problem with your computer? Just call them and they will give you instructions to get to the point where they can take over your cursor, and before your eyes they go to work. Sometimes it only takes a moment, but it often lasts hours–they fix the problem and add updates and better security, etc, from India! I had let my last subscription expire, but I was having a recurring problem with starting up my computer, so I got another three-year subscription and they fixed the problem, partly. I still needed to call them again to fix more, but I hadn’t wanted to invest the time yet.
So I get a call, supposedly from this company, and the friendly man with the wonderful accent on the other end tells me that the company has to shut down because a lot of their customers who have received the new security software are complaining that it’s not working. So they’re reimbursing everyone for their subscriptions and then they’re closing up, for now, at least, until they’re sure they can guarantee that the products they download onto my computer are the very best.
So let me ask you, ma’am, do you know how much you are paying for your subscription?
Well, it was around $400, I think.
That is correct. So while you and I get that sorted out, another technician will get to work on your computer to take off all the software we installed and any malware that may have entered, and then we will reinstall the standard security software for you, alright, ma’am?
So, ma’am, on the bottom left hand side of your screen is a Windows key… [and he takes me through the set-up for long-distance operating].
Okay ma’am, now I can use your cursor. Do you see me moving it across your screen, ma’am?
Yes, I see it.
Good. Now, how much did you say you paid for your support subscription, ma’am?
That is correct, it was $399. Now tell me, please, which bank do you use, so we can credit this amount back to your account.
It’s [such and such] bank.
[Such and such] bank, good. Can you go to their online banking screen and log in for me, please?
No, I’ve never done the online banking. I’ve tried to set myself up with the online banking, but it doesn’t work. My husband deals with that.
I understand completely, ma’am, but you can set up the online banking right now, this very moment. Just go to the bank’s website.
[This takes a while, because the problem that I’m having with my computer–that the cursor freezes and then I have to restart–has decided to rear its ugly head.] Okay, I’m there. And yes, I see here where I need to click to set up online banking. I suppose I can try again.
Yes ma’am, because it is of the utmost importance that we reimburse you before we shut down our company.
Okay, I have a form in front of me that asks for my name and a lot of other stuff.
That is good, ma’am, just go ahead and fill that out. We can not see on this end what you are doing, because that is confidential information between you and your bank, so let me know when you are done filling out the form, okay ma’am?
Okay. [And I start filling out the form, until I come to having to give the last four digits of my social security number.]
Hello? Are you still there?
Yes, ma’am, I am still here.
Well, I’m not sure I’m comfortable filling this out. It’s asking for my social security information.
No, no, ma’am–remember that I told you that we can not see what you fill out. This is a very, very secure procedure. Let me show you. [And he directs me to what he tells me is an opposite thing, where he is filling out a password and all I see is stars appearing.] So that is what I see when you are filling out your form. It is strictly between you and your bank. I can not see what information you enter, okay ma’am?
[This is supposedly the company that I trust with my computer, and though I hesitate a little, I feel bad seeming mistrustful of him, so I fill out the form. In the end it says that it can’t verify this information and that I have to go to a physical bank. That’s what always happens when I try doing anything online with these stupid American banks. So I tell him this.]
Well, ma’am, are you sure you filled out everything correctly? Is it possible that you placed a typo somewhere? Just try it again, and let me know when you are finished. And double-check everything first, okay ma’am?
Okay, hang on. [And I do it again, with the same result.]
Oh, so you will have to go to your bank.
No, I can’t go to my bank–it’s 45 minutes away! Can’t I just give you my account number and the routing number, and then you can deposit the money?
Yes ma’am, but you see, we do Instant Money Wire. What that means is that the money transfer happens within seconds, and I want you to see that it has been deposited into your account, and if I deposit it the way you describe, it might take five days or even more, and I will have to call you every day to see if you have received the money yet.
Well, how about you deposit it on my credit card?
Your credit card? Yes ma’am, I think we can do that. What is the number? [I give him the number, the expiration date and the number on the back. I know, I’m an idiot, but at this time I haven’t figured that out yet.]
Okay ma’am, let me see if I can transfer the money onto your credit card. Stay on the line with me for a moment.
Sure. [I wait for a moment.]
Ma’am, it seems your credit card is not set up to receive money. Do you have any other bank accounts?
No, just that one.
What about your Chase account? [What I only realize later is that I apparently had a Chase account once, and in my perfectly organized Usernames and Passwords folder in my Documents, which the other technician now has access to, I have a username and password for a Chase account that I no longer have.]
My Chase account? No, I don’t think so.
You do not have an account with Chase Bank?
No, just the [such and such] one. But how about PayPal?
You have PayPal?
Yes. It’s easy to deposit money in there.
Okay, let me try that, ma’am. What is the email address connected to your PayPal account? [I give it to him.]
That is good–so let me try that. Just stay on the line, please, ma’am.
Okay. [I wait a minute or so.]
Ma’am, that did not work, but let me talk to my supervisor–he knows more about PayPal than I do. Can you hang on for a little while longer, please?
Sure, no problem. [I wait a little longer.]
Hello, ma’am? I have spoken with my supervisor, ma’am–here is how we can do this. Is your screen black right now?
Yes, it is.
Okay, [and he gives me some instructions, and then:] do you see a DOS command appearing on the screen now?
Yes, I do.
Now, first we have to see if this works, so we will try it with depositing $100 first, okay, ma’am?
Okay. at the DOS prompt, please type 100.00. That is one, zero, zero, decimal point, zero, zero, okay ma’am?
Okay. [I do just that. And then a lot of stuff just goes scrolling really fast down the screen.] What’s all that?
That is the money transferring to your PayPal account, ma’am. So now please log in to your PayPal account and we should see that $100 is deposited.
[I log in and we see that there is $10,000 deposited!] Ooooh, ma’am, you forgot the decimal! Now it’s $10,000! Do you see that?
That is not good, ma’am!
No. But I see that it’s still processing, so you should be able to abort it from your end.
I am trying to do that, ma’am, but your PayPal account is now locked. You must have a personal account and not a business account, so you can not do transactions this large.
Yes, that’s true, but on your end you should still be able to stop it, right?
No ma’am, this is what I am saying: the account is completely locked! That $10,000 is now kept on hold in your account! This is not good!
[I try doing anything from my side, but sure enough, it’s locked.]
Okay ma’am, here is what I need you to do. Because your PayPal account can not do transactions this large, you need to go to your bank and take out $3,000 [he saw on my online banking form what our latest bank statement was and it was three thousand something] and deposit it in a bank account that I will give you, and then we can do the other $7,000 tomorrow or something.
[While I know he’s saying that I need to take $3,000 out of my checking account, at the same time I assume he’s talking about me taking $3,000 out of my PayPal account and putting it into our checking account, so that then there’ll be only $7,000 in the PayPal account, which it should be able to handle. I’m not putting two and two together yet.]
So ma’am, let me tell you what you need to do. This is very, very important. You need to go to your bank right now and take out that $3,000, okay? And make sure to set up your online banking as well. You need to put me on speaker phone and I will stay on the line. And please do not forget your phone chargers.
You’re going to stay on the line all the way to the bank?
Yes ma’am, my supervisor is very, very angry with me right now and I have to get this money back today. This is of the utmost importance!
I understand. [So I get dressed and leave. I talk to him when I get in the car and ask him if he minds if I put the radio on, and no, he doesn’t mind. Halfway to the bank I do call T and leave a message about the fact that I’ll be taking $3,000 out of the checking account for a very brief time, until it’s transferred from the PayPal account and that it’s a long story, but not to worry. He does worry and calls me back, doesn’t understand what I’m talking about but says that I should transfer $3,000 from my PayPal account to the checking account first, because he needs to pay for stuff today.]
[So I get to the building, and when I’m in the elevator on the way to the bank, he asks me if I’m there yet.]
Almost. I’m walking in right now.
Okay, ma’am, that is good. Now, if they ask you why do you want to take out $3,000, just tell them that it is for your personal use, okay, ma’am?
[I find this a little strange, but I don’t think too much of it, because they’re not going to ask me why I’m taking out money. So I walk up to the teller.]
Good morning, how can I help you today?
Good morning, I’d like to transfer $3,000 from my PayPal account to my checking account, but I’ve never done it before, so I don’t know what’s involved.
No, no, no, ma’am, your PayPal account is locked! You need to take $3,000 out of your checking account. Please do not tell them anything about the PayPal account. Just get the $3,000 from your checking account and go to your car and then I will tell you what to do next. [I still have the phone on speaker mode.]
[I turn speaker mode off, but I’m still at the teller’s window.] But how does taking $3,000 out of my checking account change anything about my PayPal account being locked? Your $10,000 will still be in my PayPal account. [And then to the teller:] I know, this sounds like I’m paying a ransom or something, but I accidentally got $10,000 transferred to my PayPal account from a Microsoft support company, so this poor guy’s freaking out.
No, no, ma’am! Do not tell the teller anything about this!
Why can’t I tell the teller about it?
He can not know that this is a business transaction because then we have to pay a very, very large transaction fee. Just tell him you need to take $3,000 from your account for your personal use and go to your car and then I will tell you what to do next. But stay on the line, okay?
No, I’m going to hang up, because I can’t do two things at once. Call me back in about ten minutes. [I hang up and try to go to my PayPal account but I can’t get good reception in the bank. While I wait, I realize that none of this makes sense, but I’m thinking I’ll take the $3,000 out and then see what he wants me to do next, though there’s no way I’m going to send it to him. Then a lady walks up to me and asks me to step into her office.]
I don’t mean to pry, ma’am, but are you sure you trust the person you were on the phone with? [So I tell her what happened and that it makes no sense because taking $3,000 out of my checking account isn’t going to unlock my PayPal account, and she agrees. She suggests I call PayPal and tells me that there’s a bench outside where I can get better reception.]
[I go outside and after a few minutes of being completely unsuccessful getting a person on the line at PayPal, the lady comes outside and tells me she called someone at Microsoft and they said it’s a scam. Which I have now finally begun to realize, too. This guy now has my credit card information, my bank account information, and another technician is snooping around on my computer at home, “working to fix the security problem” while I went to the bank. I know, God help me when I’m really an old lady!]
[So I don’t take out the $3,000. All the while, since I hung up on Scammer Guy, he’s got his phone calling me non-stop, and I dismiss him every time. On the way to the car I call T to tell him to block the credit card. He just happens to be home, so he turns off my computer as well. When I’m back in the car I answer Scammer Guy’s umpteenth call. It’s around noon–he has scammed and wasted my time for a good three hours. Now it’s my turn.]
Hi. Okay, I’m in the car and I’ve got the money.
You have the $3,000, ma’am?
You have it in cash in your hand?
Well, I put it in my wallet, but yes, it’s cash, all hundred dollar bills.
That is really good, ma’am. Now what you must do is you need to drive to the nearest Bank of America…
No, first I have to go home to get on PayPal on my computer…
No, no, that is not necessary, ma’am, that can wait. First you need to drive…
I’ll do that after I go home. I need to check out PayPal because I couldn’t get any reception in the bank, so I can’t see it on my phone.
[He humors me.] Very well, ma’am, that is fine. Go home first, but we do really need to get this $10,000 back today. This is very, very important!
Oh, I know. Believe me, I understand. Don’t worry, I’ll be as quick as I can.
Yes ma’am, I will stay on the line with you.
Okay. [And I hang up.]
[I let Scammer Guy call for a few minutes.] Yes, hi.
Hi ma’am, we got disconnected–I apologize about that. Listen, ma’am, somebody has turned off your computer. My technician can not continue loading the standard security software back on.
Oh, that was probably my husband. I’ll call him and tell him to turn it back on. Hang on. [I hang up and wait five minutes, dismissing Scammer Guy’s calls until then.]
Hi. Yes, it was my husband, but he’s already left again.
But he needs to turn the computer back on again, ma’am!
Well, he can’t because he already left again, but I’ll be home in about twenty minutes.
You are only twenty minutes away from your home now?
Yes. Don’t worry.
Okay ma’am, but please stay on the line, okay?
Okay. [And I hang up.]
[I ignore his calls until I get home, and then:] Hi, I just walked in the door, so I’m turning the computer back on now.
That is good ma’m, but you need to stay on the line. I have been calling and calling you.
Okay, I will.
Are you at your desktop screen yet, ma’am?
[I am.] No, it’s taking a long time to turn on. This could take a while, because I’ve been having this problem all week. Like I said earlier, I’ll get to a certain point and then the cursor just freezes, the screen turns black and I have to shut it off and start over. [Meanwhile the first thing I do is uninstall the program they used for the long-distance operating.]
That is quite alright, ma’am, I understand. Take your time–just let me know when you are in the desktop, okay ma’am? I will stay on the line.
Okay. [And I hang up.]
[I let him ring for a good twenty minutes while I get myself breakfast and tell T what exactly is happening, and then I pick up the phone again.]
Ma’am, we were disconnected yet again–I have been calling and calling!
Oh, sorry. But I’m in my desktop now.
Okay, that is good, ma’am. Do you see the Windows key at the bottom of your keyboard? [And I let him think he’s directing me to the point where I have to enter a number and then he’ll have control of my cursor. In reality I’m beginning to change my passwords.]
Okay, I will now give you the number that you need to enter. Three…
Oh no, my cursor just froze again! I’ll have to start over. [And I hang up.]
[While Scammer Guy is calling and calling, I eat my breakfast and go to my Usernames and Passwords folder and start going down the list, changing passwords. This will take a while and I’m supposedly only turning my computer back on, so after ten minutes I answer his calls again.]
Ma’am, we keep getting disconnected…
I know, it’s so weird. Anyway, I’m back in the… oh, never mind, it’s freezing up again.
Well, just turn it off and…
Yes, I know, that’s what I’ve been doing. But you know what? I’ve been needing to go to the bathroom since before I left to go to the bank, so is it okay if I do that first?
[Chuckling goodnaturedly:] Yes, of course, ma’am.
I might be a while.
Okay, but do not hang… [I hang up.]
[After about 45 minutes I’m only about halfway through changing all my passwords, but I figure I should really be getting off the potty now, so I pick up the phone.]
Hi. Hang on… [And I hang up. I’m making all this up as I go along and at this moment I’ve got nothing.]
[About twenty minutes later I answer his calls again.] Hi, sorry…
Yes, ma’am, what is going on? We keep getting disconnected and…
Yes, listen, I’m really sorry, but I have a family emergency that I have to take care of!
But ma’am, we need to take care of this money first! It is of the ut…
No, this is an emergency–I have to get to my daughter right now! I’m sorry! I’ll talk to you later. [And I hang up.]
[About half an hour later I answer his calls again.] Hi. Okay, the emergency’s over. Sorry about that.
That is quite alright, ma’am. I am glad your emergency is over. [Did I mention that he’s gradually sounding more stressed?] So ma’am, are you back in your desktop screen?
No, the emergency’s over, but I’m still half an hour away from home.
Oh [disappointed]. Well, just drive home, ma’am, and I will stay on the line and…
Okay, bye. [And I hang up.]
[Half an hour later I answer his calls again.] Hi, I’m back home. Let me try again to get into my computer.
No, no, that is not necessary, ma’am–in about an hour the banks will be closed and the most important thing now is to take care of the money. This is very, very important, okay ma’am? This is of the utmost importance. So you need to take the $3,000 and go to the nearest Bank of America.
Okay, well, at least that’s a whole lot closer, only about 15 minutes away.
Oh, that is good, ma’am, that is very good! Only 15 minutes away! So you need to take the $3,000 and drive to the bank and then park the car in the parking lot of the bank and then I will give you the numbers you need to transfer the money, okay ma’am?
Now, when you have deposited the money, you will get a receipt for the transfer. You will come back to your car, with the receipt, and you will give me the number on the receipt, okay ma’am? This is very, very important! I need that number to unlock your PayPal account, so we can get the $10,000 taken care of, okay, ma’am?
But do not hang up, okay ma’am? This is very, very important.
Okay, I won’t.
And you need to put me on speaker mode. You can put on the car radio again–I like listening to your radio.
You do? Oh, good! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And if we’re lucky it’ll be Irish hour now!
That’s great, ma’am! I love Irish music!
Great! Okay, bye. [And I hang up.]
[Fifteen minutes later I pick up the phone again.]
Ma’am? We were disconnected yet again, ma’am…
Yes, but I’m at the bank now.
You are at the Bank of America?
Yes, in the parking lot. So tell me again what I do next.
Okay, ma’am, this is very good. We are going to get this taken care of today. [He thinks he’s so close!] Now, please get a pen and paper ready so you can write down the bank account number and the routing number I am about to give you.
I already have a pen and paper. [I really do, because I figure he’s going to ask me to read the numbers back to me.]
Very good, ma’am. I will now give you a name… [He spells out a name:] A as in alpha, …. [until he’s spelled out AKM Iqbal Hossein, [and then the account number:] 000-394-943-599, [and the routing number:] 122-000-661.
[T enters the bedroom during all this and I have to gesture for him to not make a sound, because I’m pretending to be in my car, at the Bank of America.]
Do you have all that, ma’am?
Yes, I have it.
That is good. Can you read it all back to me, please?
That is correct. Good! That is very, very good! Now you must go inside and deposit the money in this bank account and…
But tell me again how depositing this money will change the fact that my PayPal account is frozen because of the $10,000 transaction. I still don’t understand.
Ma’am, I have explained this to you already! First you just need to go to the bank and you need to deposit the money, okay ma’am?
And when you have deposited the money, you will get a receipt for the transfer, okay ma’am?
Now, on that receipt will be a number, okay ma’am?
So when you have the receipt you go back to your car, okay ma’am?
And when you get back to the car, you will give me that number, and then I will use that number to unblock your PayPal account so we can take care of the $10,000, okay ma’am?
Hmm, okay. I still don’t really understand, but here’s what I’ll do: I’ll deposit the money and I’ll get the receipt and then I’ll go back to the car and I’ll give you the number on the receipt, okay?
Yes! Yes! That is absolutely correct, ma’am! But please stay on the line, okay? Please! Don’t! Hang! Up!
Okay. Bye. [And I hang up.]
[I take a shower, because we’re leaving to have dinner somewhere in half an hour, and while I’m showering I realize that the actual support company might be able to give the name and bank numbers to the police where they are, so when I’m done showering I call them, make sure it’s actually them, explain the situation, and give them the info. The man on the other end doesn’t seem too excited, and I don’t know if that’s because he knows there’s no point taking it to the police, or because he’s the inside man who’s giving these scammers the information about new support customers.]
[When T, B and I get in the car to go to out to dinner, I tell them to be quiet, and I pick up the phone again.]
Yes, sorry it took so long. This is a small town and they had never dealt with a routing number before so they were hopelessly confused. I had to explain it all to them, what a routing number is and that it was really quite simple. Anyway, I deposited the money and I have the receipt…
You deposited the $3,000, ma’am? [He can’t believe his patience has finally paid off!!!]
Yes, so are you ready for me to give you the number on the receipt?
No ma’am, that will not be necessary–what I need you to do is take the receipt to a UPS store or a Staples and scan it…
But you said that when I got back in the car I would give you the number and…
No ma’am, you give me the number by scanning the receipt at a UPS or Staples.
What color is the receipt, ma’am?
Uh, it’s white.
White and black?
Well, yes, the letters are black.
And what does it say at the top of the receipt, ma’am? Does it say Approved, or Transferred, or Deposited or something of that nature?
Yes, it says Approved. And the number is actually a lot of numbers and letters combined… [because I reckon this is going to be the end of the game and I’ve got one last idea.]
Ma’am, you do not have to tell me the number on the receipt. You need to scan it and then you need to send it to me from a UPS store or a Staples.
Okay, but meanwhile I could give it to you over the phone anyway, right? It’s pretty long and…
[He decides to humor me.] Okay, ma’am, you can go ahead and give me the number.
Good, do you have a pen and paper?
Yes, I do.
This might take a while, because I’m driving [T’s driving], but here goes. All the letters are in caps, okay?
It’s 1, 5, 3, F as in frozen, 5, 9, 9, U as in unicorn, 8, 4, 0, C as in… [You see where this is going, right?]
Okay, listen ma’am, I really do not need the number. You need to take the receipt to a UPS store or a Staples. What is your zip code? [Like he doesn’t know.]
[I give him my zip code.]
Okay, I see that the UPS and the Staples in your area are both open until 7 pm, so you still have plenty of time. [It’s 5:30 by now.]
Okay, I’ll go to the UPS store, but it’ll take a while, because it’s in the opposite direction of where I’ve been going.
That is quite alright, ma’am, I will stay on the line, okay, ma’am?
Okay, bye. [And I hang up, absolutely thrilled that it isn’t over yet.]
[About twenty minutes later I answer his calls again, sounding close to tears.] Hi, I’m at the UPS store but it’s closed! And what if the Staples is closed, too?
No, ma’am, the Staples should be open. Just take your time–do not worry. And please stay on the line, okay? Please do not hang up.
Okay, I won’t. Bye. [And I hang up.]
[Another twenty minutes or so later we’re in the restaurant and I answer his calls again.]
Hi, I’m sorry, I didn’t get to Staples. I’m at a restaurant.
You are at a restaurant, ma’am? [Sounding exhausted.]
Yes, I was on my way to the Staples and then my husband called and said he wanted to meet at the restaurant…
But ma’am, can’t you…
No, I can’t say no! He beats me. [At this point I completely lose it, and B just about choking on his lemonade across the table doesn’t help, but I think I was able to make it sound like I burst out crying.]
[I turn away from T and B and manage to say, supposedly whimpering:] I couldn’t say no because he beats me. I’m SO, SO sorry, [and here I really crack up, but I make it sound like crying], I’ll really do it tomorrow, I promise! Oh no, here he comes! I’ve got to hang up. I’m sorry! I’m SO SO SORRY! [And I hang up.]
He kept calling until about 10:30 am on Saturday. I guess he figured it out eventually, when the $3,000 wasn’t appearing in the bank account. Meanwhile a very real $10,000 is still on hold in my PayPal account until they finally give up and pull it out, or until PayPal unblocks it and returns it, whichever happens first.
Anyway, let this be a warning to all of you dolts like me. If you’re easily confused when you have to share the bill and the tip at a restaurant, especially when one person pays the whole bill with a credit card and the others pay that person, and, on top of that, someone needs change from a twenty, then you are the kind of person these scammers prey on. If I had had online banking, I probably would have given away $3,000 before I even figured out what had happened. Thank you, American banks, for being so incredibly unintuitive when it comes to your online services!
Also, when I called the real Microsoft support company where I have my service subscription, they told me they would never call me or email me–I call them. They would never ask me any personal information, they just fix my computer. And if someone calls you, supposedly from a company you deal with, and they ask you for information they should have, like the amount of your subscription, don’t give it to them, but say, “You tell me.”
Because most of all, I went for it much longer than I was comfortable with, just because I didn’t want to seem rude and I hate being mistrustful. Looking back, there were several moments when I should have cottoned on. When the real support company does work on my computer, I see what they do. These guys turned the screen black. And me typing in the amount in their program that they would pay me? After a DOS prompt? Once I finally decided that this guy was definitely scamming me, I felt so incredibly stupid! But I think I made up for it a little by not letting him know that I was on to him before T could stop the credit card and before I had a chance to get back to my computer and change all my passwords, which I had been meaning to do for a while, anyway.
Scammer Guy almost scammed me and wasted my time for three hours, but I then played him and wasted his time for a glorious six hours! Oh, sweet revenge!